- The A-Team
Directed by Joe Carnahan
Screenplay by Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods
Liam Neeson as Hannibal
Bradley Cooper as Face
Jessica Biel as Charisa Sosa
Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as B.A. Baracus
Sharlto Copley as Murdock
Patrick Wilson as Lynch
Gerald McRaney as General Morrison
‘The A-Team’ Makes a Gratifying Transition to the Big Screen
A few months ago I reviewed The Losers, a film about a group of special operatives betrayed by their superiors who went rogue in order to clear their good names. Frankly, it was pretty derivative of TV’s ‘The A-Team,’ which gets its own movie adaptation this weekend. I was one of the few critics who openly enjoyed The Losers for its goofy charms, officially declaring it “a hoot and a half.” In contrast, Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team is most certainly not “a hoot and a half.” No sir, after spending a raucous couple of hours in the theater with this over-the-top action extravaganza, I can confirm that this is a “four hoot” movie if ever there was one.
The A-Team stars Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith, an Army Ranger who runs an ‘Alpha Unit’ consisting of Faceman (The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (former UFC Light-Heavyweight title holder Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson) and Murdock (District 9’s Sharlto Copley). Together they specialize in military operations involving crazy, stupid and altogether ridiculous plans. These are guys who actually intend to fake their deaths so they can infiltrate an incinerator, or catch falling terrorists on the landing gear of helicopters, counting on sheer talent to keep their quarry out of the rotors. Watching these guys fly a tank by shooting the cannon at various angles may be one of the dumbest things you’re likely to see this year, but it may also be the most gleeful.
After an extended prologue in which we see how Hannibals ‘A-Team’ a-teamed up for the first time, the action jumps forward 8 years and 80 missions later. We’re told that the film takes place in the last days of the Iraq occupation, which is a shrewd way of reminding the audience that the movie we’re about to watch has no relation whatsoever to reality. Hannibal’s crew is ordered, entirely off the books, to recover a case containing printing plates that would allow Middle Eastern terrorists to print flawlessly counterfeit American currency. Naturally, since we’re nearing the end of the first act, everything goes completely pear-shaped and our heroes are framed for a crime they did not commit. Also naturally, since this is a movie, they decide to resolve the situation by breaking out of jail and blowing s*** up instead of filing the proper legal motions.
As you’ve probably surmised, The A-Team is not a complicated movie. Too many action extravaganzas try to beef up their running times with meaningless digressions and plot ‘twists’ (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time comes to mind), but Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Skip Williamson and Brian Bloom (who also co-stars as one of the villains), keeps the plotline pleasingly direct. The MacGuffin is neither a mystery nor difficult to understand: The bad guys just want to counterfeit money, not hijack a satellite, turn back time or build a crazy new kind of weapon. Meanwhile, the good guys just want to clear their names. The story goes exactly where you expect it to, but more importantly it doesn’t go somewhere worse instead. There’s one subplot in which B.A. Baracus tries to become a pacifist that feels a little tacked on, probably to give the character a little more to do, but if that’s the biggest complaint then let’s face it… Joe Carnahan did his job.
Thank God, by the way, that Joe Carnahan did his job this time. After the nonsensical mess that was Smokin’ Aces you’d be forgiven for thinking The A-Team would be a similar train wreck of half-cocked ideas and incomprehensible action sequences. It would be foolish to say that Carnahan reined himself in, since these are some of the nuttiest set pieces in recent cinematic memory (and that’s saying something), but they’re always easy to follow and the script always reminds us that Hannibal’s increasingly unbelievable plans are only effective because no one would ever anticipate such lunatic stunts in the first place. While The A-Team seems to enjoy the many risks they take, they never treat it like just another day at the office either, and it’s that tiny bit of respect for context that keeps Carnahan’s film engaging, even when all logic dictates that you should be shaking your head in disbelief.
Carnahan’s cast really makes The A-Team easier to swallow. Neeson lends a much-needed air of gravitas, Cooper is a master at playing Bradley Cooper (all anyone asks of him, really), and Jessica Biel doesn’t entirely screw up, although that little blue trenchcoat she wears all the time feels a bit too adorable for the Department of Defense. Jackson is surprisingly charming in his first big role and Patrick Wilson plays what is essentially a well-acted version of Jason Patric’s ‘Max’ from The Losers, which is to say that he actually seems to be interested in what’s going on. Sharlto Copley steals a lot of scenes as the vehicle expert Murdock, who uses his clinically-insane banter to hide the fact that his accent fluctuates wildly between South African, Southern and Generic American within any given sentence.
While watching The A-Team I felt like a kid again, watching a silly movie and grinning from ear-to-ear the entire time. The only difference is that, unlike most kids, I wasn’t enjoying myself because my standards were too low. The A-Team manages to be big, dumb explosive fun without actually insulting the audience’s intelligence, and that’s a hard feat to pull off. Come to think of it, it’s practically impossible. But if you have that problem, if no other movie can help, and if you can find it (at a theater near you), maybe you should watch… The A-Team.